Monday, January 25, 2016

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD: The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona

This is one of the books I enjoyed last summer. It is a historical novel set in Venice during the 18th century when music ruled.  Two sisters were left as babies at an orphanage that also happened to be a music academy.  In between the routines of life in an impersonal institution one of the girls learned how to sing with exceptional talent.  The other sister, after almost malingering from lack of life choices, was able to persevere and become a violin virtuoso as well as inspiration for the famous composer Vivaldi.  Operas were sung, choirs performed, small boys were even castrated in hopes their voices would retain their heavenly soprano sound into adulthood.  People who sang and preformed on stage were much acclaimed and admired even as celebrities are admired today.

The society in 18th century Venice was full of moral contrasts.  Some women were required or expected to be virgins their whole life to the point of being cloistered while a married lady who was wealthy was allowed to have another lover besides her husband as long as it was discreet. It was essentially open marriages.  The sister with the singing talent was swept off to marriage by a handsome, wealthy good guy.  After all she was as well known in 18th century Venice as our modern day celebrities are on television now.  The more introverted sister, that played  the violin,  had to live her life as a cloistered virgin locked away in the music academy. Priests, like the composer Vivaldi, were often living openly with their housekeepers being their unofficial significant others.  It was a rumor Vivaldi lived with a woman that way but there is no actual evidence to prove he ever actually broke his priestly vows of celibacy.

The title of the book, The Four Seasons, is making reference to the work of music Vivaldi composed by that name that is well known.  The novel starts out as interesting historical fiction. The subject of feminism is introduced after the married, wealthy sister becomes in charge of the family finances. The author did make it clear that a woman being in charge of the family finances was an unusual occurrence in 18th century Venice. The other theme that is woven through out the novel is the power of making choices.  The author emphasized  that even a poor orphan who has to be a cloistered virgin her whole life still has personal choices to make that can impact her life for better or for worse. So that was the actual theme to the novel for me: Even the least of us have big or small choices everyday that can make our life that day better or worse.  The title of the book, The Four Seasons, may also refer to the four seasons of life and how each season may be different.  The novel was written by Laurel Corona who is a professor of English and Humanities and lives in California.

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